Farmer John Writes: On Life and Death

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 9, August 23rd – 28th, 2021

Today I shall undertake a topic that, at first glance, might seem unpleasant, or even inappropriate. The topic is death, though it also will include its counterpart, life. 

Having grown up on a farm, the life and death processes are familiar to me: grain grows in order to ripen and grain dies in order to ripen; hogs are born in order to be eaten; weeds are killed in order for crops to flourish. These are not experiences accessible to most today, with most people so disconnected from the farms and the land in general.

where’d he go?

I realize a discussion of death could fall into the category of other often-uncomfortable topics like money, sex, digestion, and maybe even God. I have noticed how certain people, when I have inquired if they have a will or some other sort of estate plan, fidget, look around in discomfort, perhaps even turn an ashen gray, as though foreshadowing their end time. 

That’s a Big Expensive Building

We have quite the range of health care available today—immediate care, women’s health, men’s health, sexual health, dental health, family health, mental health, physical fitness, behavioral health, optical health, spinal care, cancer care, cardiac care, addiction treatment…I suppose this list could go on for the rest of the newsletter. (If you really want more, Mayo Clinic offers an alphabetized comprehensive guide on hundreds of conditions.)

My point here, though, is to draw attention to the edifices that are often built to represent the availability of health care. They are frequently imposing structures, likely designed to be re-assuring that the most modern health care is available therein.

For many years, upon gazing at certain of these structures, I have often been visited with a feeling of Ancient Egypt. “Why do these edifices invoke in me this feeling?” I have asked myself. “They certainly don’t have an architectural style that is reminiscent of Ancient Egypt.” Still, looking at these massive edifices, I have felt something related to Ancient Egypt, even to the point of saying to myself, “ah, that structure is so Egyptian. Something about it inwardly harks back to Ancient Egypt.”

Ancient Egypt, really?

It’s a Wrap

I received clarification of this mysterious feeling upon reading a book of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, Egyptian Myths and Mysteries, in which Steiner elaborated on the Egyptian ritual of mummification. Mummification was a method for preserving life forces after death. 

It’s a Jab

Today, great effort is expended to preserve life forces before death. The Ancient Egyptians endeavored to prolong life after death; modern medicine endeavors to prolong life before death. Is life so fabulous that people strive to continue it, or is death so terrifying that people strive to avoid it?

Overheard: “She Doesn’t Look Sick”

My mother asked me to stop at a funeral home so she could pay her respects to a deceased neighbor. She was in the funeral home for a few minutes, got back into the car and said, “My gosh, she doesn’t look sick at all. Everyone said she looked sick these past few months. She looks fine to me.” An Ancient Egyptian throwback? A contemporary triumph? Both?

Early Morning

Most mornings before plunging into farm work, I do an exercise suggested by Rudolf Steiner to behold both life and death, or perhaps, I should say, to experience the forces of life and the forces of death. 

Here is Steiner’s recommendation:

“To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing, and flourishing, and on the other hand, all phenomena connected with fading, decaying, and withering…

“The point is that the attention should be directed with perfect inner balance upon both phenomena. If the necessary tranquility be attained and you surrender yourself to the feeling which expands to life in the soul, then, in due time, the following experience will ensue. Thoughts and feelings of a new kind and unknown before will be noticed uprising in the soul. Indeed, the more often the attention be fixed alternately upon something growing, blossoming and flourishing, and upon something else that is fading and decaying, the more vivid will these feelings become. A quite definite form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with all that is fading and decaying. 

“It should be emphasized that the student must never lose [one]self in speculations on the meaning of one thing or another. Such intellectualizing will only draw [the student] away from the right road. [The person] should look out on the world with keen, healthy senses and quickened power of observation, and then give [one]self up to the feeling that arises within him. [The student] should not try to make out, through intellectual speculation, the meaning of things, but rather allow the things to disclose themselves. ”

     ~ Rudolf Steiner


For several months now, I have been beholding separately in the early morning a blooming flower and a dead tree. By bringing a certain attitude or feeling to this process, my experience of the forces of life and death are gradually transforming, not into a preference or an opinion, but into an acceptance and a reverence. These are not concepts or ideas; these are revelations, truths that exist at a fundamental level of existence.

In Farm News, Week 6, But I’m Farming, I wrote “…farming, like the rest of life, is a continual process of dying and becoming, of growth and decay, of building up and tearing down. This dead farm somehow came back to life in a new way—an ancient story that crosses many cultural boundaries and epochs, a story of redemption.

“How did this happen?  The farm died. A (subterranean?) process ensued. There was a resurrection. The death of the farm was needed for the farm to arise in a new way.”

Today, you eat life from a once dead farm.

It is only because of death that there is life, and only because of life that there is death.

The U-Pick Garden is Alive and Ready for You

Shareholders, come out to our U-Pick Garden west of the barns for green beans, flowers and herbs (notably thyme and sage). Check here for details: 

flowers for you

green beans for you

New Customizing Policy

It’s quite the interesting challenge to forecast in advance what we will have available for you to customize your box with in the upcoming week. Most of the time, we have everything available that we say will be available, but not every single time. From now on, if we run out of something that is scheduled to go into your box, we will simply substitute as comparable an item as possible, as opposed to tracking you down to offer you an apology and a credit. This new policy will help us to keep things in balance.

The Melons

I think our melon quality this year is a bit lower than usual. Perhaps this has to do because of the heavy rains that came when the melons were forming. 

The Tomatoes

We transport our tomatoes to you in our share boxes. Some might get knicked; some might get bruised or squished. We can’t protect them any more than we do. It’s just part of the CSA program. Some shareholders want perfect produce; some shareholders want or at least accept imperfect produce, to avoid food waste. Vegetables are like people, in that even the best of them are likely to have flaws.

Driver Praises

“Just wanted to let you know we have been super pleased with our [home] delivery service this year. Our delivery person [Michael] is always friendly and courteous – he even puts our box in the cooler on our porch to keep things fresh in the summer heat. A+ service. Oh and the produce has been terrific of course. Really looking forward to cooking up the sweet corn tonight!”

~ Shareholder Kevin


“This morning our doorbell rang. Unusual because usually the boxes are delivered to our south Oak Park dropsite without fanfare. Sometimes I don’t know the delivery has happened! Anyway, there is Zdenek holding a box of screws and a drill. “You have some stair boards a little loose, do you mind if I just put a few screws in and tighten them up?” So simple! I can’t explain how sweet his offer was! For my husband and I, we only see that we have to paint and eventually replace the stairs. Zdenek with his quick, simple, and generous offer, just gave our stairs new life! And he always puts our box closest to the front door for easy access. He is truly a mensch!”

~ Shareholder and Site Host Laurel

Farmer John

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Showing 5 comments
  • Adam

    Last week, we got a tomato that had been squished a little bit. No problem! Ended up just using it in a corn/tomato/mozzarella salad that night. It was delicious!

    • Farmer John

      Tomatoes are tough for us to get just right. They go from firm to soft rather quickly, plus they go on a ride to get from here to you. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Annemarie

    Our melon was juicy and delicious!

  • Chef Megan Littlejohn

    Our melon just had a tiny mushy spot i cut out, but it was good. My husband ate it up but I managed to swipe 2 pieces! The tomatoes make good sauces and go great in Indian currys, cooked down to a paste. I pray for green tomatoes some day though. Even if its not this year Ill be back next year too!

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